There is something regal about Charlotte Jackson, who is perched confidently at the large glass desk that dominates her bright, minimalist gallery office. Sharply dressed in her idiosyncratic black outfit, with her characteristic pageboy haircut, her style is her own, and it’s reflected in the clean, contemporary feel of the gallery space and the work she shows. Charlotte Jackson Fine Art, (554 S. Guadalupe St., 505-989-8688, charlottejackson.com), has been at this location since 2010, but Jackson and her business have been a staple of the Santa Fe art scene for 30 years.
“I started where the Merrill Lynch building is on Marcy Street, on the second floor,” says the 70-year-old gallerist. “It was just a little space.” She came to New Mexico in the early 1980s with no intention of opening her own gallery. “I grew up in Manhattan with all the wonderful things that New York has to offer,” says Jackson, a one-time artist who used to teach ceramics at Staten Island Community College. “I realized it was not my calling.”
Jackson was in the museum field before coming to New Mexico, mostly in development. “I realized that I was really good at raising money,” she says. In the late 1970s and early ’80s, she worked with a headhunter who secured her some positions at places that, if you know Jackson, don’t seem like a good fit at all. Doing PR for the New York Jets, for instance.
“Even though I’m from New York, I didn’t even know who the New York Jets were because I’m not a sports person.” Then, she was placed at the ProRodeo Hall of Fame and Museum of the American Cowboy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, which at least afforded the athletic young entrepreneur the opportunity to go rock climbing and hike all the “fourteeners,” the 14,000-plus-foot peaks in the Rockies.
Her first job in New Mexico, also arranged through the headhunter, was at the Kit Carson Memorial Foundation in Taos. “I had no idea about Kit Carson, other than the history I learned when I was a kid,” she says. “I was brought in to raise money.” She bided her time, hoping to secure a position at the Denver Art Museum. But Jackson never left New Mexico. Kathleen Peters, wife of art dealer Gerald Peters, hired her to start Sena Galleries West, which opened in the downtown Sena Plaza building in the mid-1980s. “I ran it for four years. Then I opened my own gallery in 1989.”
Jackson says it took some convincing before she was willing to take that step. She wasn’t sure she could do it until it struck her that selling art was a lot like fundraising, which was something she knew well. “You always needed to make money to keep the doors open,” she says. She could tailor the business to reflect her own tastes and always have a product she could believe in.
She also found a trusted advisor in artist Fritz Scholder, who encouraged her and left Sena Galleries West to join her on Marcy Street. In the 1980s, Scholder’s work was hot property. It was a coup for Jackson, who showed his work along with a few East Coast and contemporary Spanish artists. But the cramped space, away from foot traffic, meant that she couldn’t do much more.
When a larger space on the first floor opened up, she jumped at the chance to take on other artists and do bigger shows. Soon, she opened a second gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona, and was back and forth between the two locations until a car accident left her physically unable to travel. “I was sort of at a crossroads. Do I want to continue doing this? I had a really tempting museum job offer in California, but I realized that I loved what I was doing. I loved the gallery business. I decided to stay.”
Charlotte Jackson Fine Art was in business for four years when, in 1993, she launched an ambitious three-woman show featuring works by Florence Miller Pierce, Agnes Martin, and Mala Brewer. “That was the beginning of a very exciting time. I was learning, it was fun, and people loved what I was doing. I started working with Florence Pierce full-time, which was such a blessing. We became very close and dear friends.”
Jackson moved to a second location, across from the Santa Fe Community Convention Center in the mid-1990s and remained at that location until moving into the Railyard. Her focus was always on contemporary art, much of it with a minimalist aesthetic, but she grew more and more attracted to monochromatic works, and began to focus on those almost exclusively. “I met a couple named Natalie and Irving Forman. They were amazing collectors out of Chicago. They came into the gallery once, and we became fast friends. It was through them, and with them, that I started traveling all over, looking at art, particularly monochrome paintings and painters in Europe, New York, and around the world, really. It was great fun.”
Jackson’s gallery still maintains a reductive program, featuring artists who work in the area of monochrome painting or have roots in it, including James Howell, Joan Watts, Keira Kotler, Anne Appleby, and Winston Roeth. “People would say, ‘Are you crazy? How do you make a living on this?’ You know, there was only one other person in the country selling this kind of art, and that was Eric Stark in New York. The only place where people had a grasp of this kind of work was Europe.”
She was among the first local gallerists asked to relocate to the Railyard Arts District, but she remained steadfast against a move until she was sure her business could remain viable there. “I’m a very conservative businesswoman. Hence, I’m in business 30 years,” she says. When she did decide to move in 2009, she spent a year gutting the space and hired architect Trey Jordan to do the interior: two rooms, each designed as a white box.
Charlotte Jackson Fine Art is among the more atypical local galleries, in that you won’t find much in the way of traditional landscapes, still-lifes, or portraiture. Outside of a few contemporary artists, such as James Drake, you won’t find much figurative artwork at all. It’s abstraction, minimalism, monochrome painters, artists of the Light and Space movement, the Concrete movement, and Color Field painting that predominate.
“To her artists she’s supportive and cultivating, and to her collectors she’s thoughtful and discriminating,” says new media artist Peter Sarkisian, whom she represents. “There’s really not much more you want in a dealer, except maybe great taste, which she also has. She’s a class act.”
In 1999, Jackson took over ownership of Art Santa Fe, a homegrown annual art fair that takes place at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center every summer. Contrary to popular belief, she wasn’t the fair’s founder, but she did grow it. “It was started by Laura Carpenter,” she says. “She never gets the credit for it and she should, because she’s done really great things here in Santa Fe. But she keeps a low profile.”
Art Santa Fe started as a hotel fair in the 1990s, first using La Posada de Santa Fe and then Hotel Santa Fe as a venue. In the early years, Jackson participated as a gallerist. Ownership changed hands a few times before she stepped in and moved the location to the convention center, then known as the Sweeney Center. It operated as a biennial event until 2007, when it became an annual fair. Under her leadership, Art Santa Fe brought in some high-profile keynote speakers, including architect Frank Gehry, art critic Barbara Rose, and author Lawrence Weschler.
She sold Art Santa Fe to Eric Smith of Redwood Media Group in 2015 but still maintains the nonprofit component. “We run art books through it now. I did my first book on Frederick Hammersley. It wasn’t finished before he died, which broke my heart. But he saw it. He proofed it on a Thursday and he died on a Friday. Then I went on to work with David Chickey at Radius Books and we did books on Tony DeLap, Ed Moses, Charles Arnoldi, and Max Cole. Now we’re doing one on Helen Pashgian. Because of the age of a lot of these artists, there’s an urgency.”
Jackson’s dedication — not only to artists, but to the community — has marked her career. As president of the Santa Fe Gallery Association, she helped launch ARTsmart, a nonprofit that provides art materials and year-round visual arts instruction to grade-school students. She also served on the Museum of New Mexico Board of Regents for six years under Gov. Bill Richardson. But running the gallery is her true passion. “I love artists. I love art. I love talking about it. This is my calling. It’s what I do best.”